Open Rates Skyrocket

7 Ways To Make Your Open Rates Skyrocket


Opens are the ‘Top Funnel’ of Email Metrics

We call it the ‘top funnel’ because open rates have a domino effect on the rest of your email metrics. If no one opens your email, all your other metrics (like CTR) will suffer. The Radicati Group created a 2013 Email Statistics report that stated, “The majority of email traffic comes from business emails, which accounts for over 100 billion emails sent and received per day.” As these number grow each year, so does the pressure to keep your open rates up and your subscribers (and boss) happy. When waves of business emails are crashing down on your subscribers every day, what can you do to ensure your email gets opened? There are a ton of elements you can vary to try to entice your readers, but we’ve narrowed it down for you. Grab these 7 ways to get in front of your customer and make sure your message is heard.

  1. Don’t Cut Corners When Building Your Email List
  2. Do you talk to your mother the same way you talk to your best friend?
  3. When is the optimal time and day to send your email?
  4. 5 tips on crafting captivating subject lines
  5. Don’t Get Tangled in the Web of SPAM Traps
  6. Sending Frequency: Out of sight, out of mind
  7. A/B Test Your Way to a Better Campaign

1. Don’t Cut Corners When Building Your Email List

Oh the age old question, “Should I create a double-opt in or single-opt in confirmation for my subscriber list?” Ok, ok perhaps it’s not an age old question since the first mass mailing wasn’t until 1978, but it is a crucial decision you have to make when you are building your list.

In case you need a refresher on the difference of a single opt-in and a double opt-in, let me break it down for you.

  • Single opt-in: Someone filled out a registration or subscription form and is automatically added to your email list.
  • Double opt-in: As above, but after someone signs up for your mailing list, you send a link in a confirmation email that they must click before they’re added to your list.

The reason many marketers have a knee-jerk reaction to choose the single-opt in method is because they want to gain as many leads as possible. They have the mindset of quantity vs. quality and don’t want a single prospect to slip through the cracks. While you should care about gathering leads, what you really need to hone in on is gathering qualified prospects. If someone was so ambivalent about joining your list that they couldn’t open up their email (when the sole purpose was to receive emails from you) and click a link to confirm, they are probably not a qualified lead. Yes, marketing is about numbers, but marketing is also about results. Don’t endanger the integrity of your subscriber list by being greedy about quadrupling your list size.

MailChimp supported this notion when they took a random sample in their database of 30,000 users who’ve sent at least 10 campaigns. They wanted to see if double opt-ins improved their users email marketing stats. Check out their results below.

MailChimp's double opt-in results
This is a screen capture from MailChimp’s results when they tested whether the double opt-in method would affect open rates.

The double opt-in method gave a 72.2% increase in unique opens. On top of finding out that double opt-ins get more opens, they also discovered double-opt in lists have a 114% increase in clicks compared to the CTR of single opt-in lists. When it comes to list size, bigger isn’t always better.

2. Do you talk to your mother the same way you talk to your best friend?

I didn’t think so. That’s why a one-size-fits-all approach to email marketing doesn’t work when you are speaking to a diverse audience. The reality is that most businesses cater to more than one kind of consumer. For example, at Email on Acid we offer email testing as our main attraction. Even though our product fits a very specific need, we still can categorize our target customers into 3 different segments: email developers, email marketers and email designers. Writing with only one target group in mind will end up alienating the rest of your list. If we were to send an email talking in depth about HTML and CSS tricks, an email coder might love it but an email marketer could be annoyed. That’s why list segmentation is so important.

List segmentation is also crucial because contacts will inevitably be at different points in the sales cycle. To use our business as an example again, our list is a melting pot of different subscribers that have joined our list for many different reasons. Some may have joined for our blog posts, some are long-time customers, others are new customers, and some are potential customers that just took our self-serve email testing platform for a spin. That is why we need to provide targeted content that caters to people with different interests, rather than an email written with general content in an attempt to reach all our segments in one fell swoop.

Finally, and most importantly, you get vastly better email marketing results when you segment your list. If you are still hesitant about the heavy lifting you need to do to segment your list appropriately, I’ll let Lyris’ Annual Email Optimizer Report do the convincing here. Lyris found that 39% of marketers who segmented their email lists experienced higher open rates, 28% experienced lower unsubscribe rates, and 24% experienced better deliverability and greater revenue. If you check out the graph below, you will see that there are TONS more reasons to segment your list.

Lyris's email segmentation results
This is a screen capture from Lyris’ results when they tested what the impact was of segmenting an email list.

The content that you produce may be top-notch, but if it’s not relevant to your recipient, they aren’t going to waste an open on you. Segmentation should be front and center in your handy-dandy best practices notebook.

3. When is the optimal time and day to send your email?

After the effort you put into designing, writing and editing your email campaign, it’s easy to feel trigger happy with the send button. However, you should get your finger off that trigger and consider when the most optimal time to send is.

According to the Econsultancy/Adestra Email Marketing Industry Census 2013, only half of businesses (49%) are currently testing the time and day of their email messages. This means that the other 51% already know the optimum time, or they’re taking a shot in the dark.

GetResponse ran a study that analyzed 21 million emails sent in the US during Q1 2012 to uncover what was the best day of the week to send emails. Their results indicated that the majority of inbox traffic and activity takes place during the work week. You can surmise that sending your marketing emails over the weekend is no bueno. They also observed that the peak of inbox activity was on Thursday. In fact, Thursday was the top day for all metrics: percentage sent, open rates and CTR. Check out the stats below.

GetResponse open ratio by day results

Get response ctr by day results
This is a screen capture from Get Response’s results when they tested whether the optimal time to send your emails.

Now that you know the optimal day to send your email, let’s discuss what time of the day is the best. MailChimp uncovered some amazing data when they analyzed more than a billion emails regarding send time for marketing mail. The chart below indicates that recipients are more likely to open their email after 12pm. Also, the hours between 2-5pm are the most active hours of email opens by time of day.

MailChimp's email opens by time of day results
This is a screen capture from MailChimp’s results when they tested the optimal time to send an email.

These stats give you a really good framework to apply when deciding when to send your emails. However, the only way you are going to find out what day/time works best for your audience is to test for yourself!

4. 5 tips on crafting captivating subject lines

With over 1.9 billion non-SPAM emails being sent every day, your subject lines is what stands between your email being opened or trashed. It is your first (and perhaps only) chance to make an impression and improve your open rates. For this reason, your subject line’s job is to stop readers in their tracks. So, how do you craft a subject line that will really pack a punch? Lucky for you we just put up a blog called “Seasonal Email and Subject Line Inspiration for Fall.”

  1. Manage Your Readers’ Expectations
  2. Steer Clear of These 3 Words
  3. Localization vs. Personalization
  4. How Long is Too Long?
  5. Make It Actionable.

5. Don’t Get Tangled in the Web of SPAM Traps

If you don’t make it to the inbox, you won’t be getting ANY opens. Before you can worry about your campaign’s open rate, you need to focus on deliverability. When you send an email campaign to your recipients, your messages have to get past their ISP’s SPAM filter and their email application SPAM filter. It’s a lot easier than you’d think for an innocent, legitimate email to be mistaken as SPAM. That’s why you must leverage SPAM tools to avoid these risky traps.

The first way you should go about ensuring you don’t end up on the SPAM list is something I’ve already covered: the double opt-in. This way you have a lower chance of someone marking your emails as SPAM. ISPs also pay attention to engagement metrics. As I mentioned in section one, the double opt-in method can give you a 72.2% increase in unique opens, so this will only help you avoid being marked as SPAM.

Another way to increase customer engagement metrics is by practicing good hygiene with your list of subscribers. Its best practice to constantly cleanse your list so outdated leads aren’t affecting your open rate. According to Marketing Sherpa, a corporate email list has an average annual decay of 25%. People change email addresses every few months. That’s why you must keep your list up to date and automatically remove unsubscribes, bounces and users that have not engaged in your emails for over 6 months. One way you can separate the wheat from the chaff is by sending a reengagement email to your subscribers that haven’t taken any sort of action with your emails in over 6 months. When you send them this email, let them know that in order to keep receiving your mailings, they must take a certain action such as clicking a link within the email to opt back in.

Finally, focus on your content to make sure it is not too spammy. Avoid using ALL CAPS, too many exclamation points!!!!!!! and spammy words or phrases. Phrases like mortgage, insurance, act now, casino, limited time, coupons, click now, open immediately, etc. can end up tangling you in the web of a SPAM filter.

MailChimp made an awesome table about the thought process of SPAM filters when they check out your mail. Go through this checklist next time you are ready to send out a campaign:

Thought process of SPAM filters
This is a screen capture from MailChimp’s website.

I must admit though, SPAM filters are a very elusive and mystifying beast. Even if you follow all the rules you can still end up getting flagged and find yourself scratching your head in disbelief. The time to find out about a SPAM problem is before your email blast, not after. Diagnose and solve deliverability issues with our pre-deployment SPAM tests. We will help you identify which filters are blocking your emails and provide as much detail as we can squeeze out of them to help you troubleshoot.

6. Sending Frequency: Out of sight, out of mind

A common perception is that if you email your list too often, they’ll unsubscribe. This is not always the case though. Sometimes it is beneficial to hit up your list more than once a week. Why? I think Phil Hollows explains this best when he says, “Why? Because you’re not top of mind with your subscribers, and irregularly sent emails that arrive months after a subscription was confirmed will feel ‘out of the blue.’ They are more likely to be less relevant to the list and, therefore, that much more likely to be marked as SPAM.”

Hubspot published findings supporting this notion. They looked at how their CTR and their unsubscribe rate was impacted when they increased their monthly sending frequency. Dan from Hubspot looked at the click through rate based on the number of times a list is emailed each month. He found that once you’re emailing your list 4 or 5 times a month, there is no sharp decline in clicks if you increase your number of sends per month.

Hubspot's sending frequency test results
This is a screen capture from Hubspot’s results when they tested sending frequency.

Dan also found that if you’re emailing your list 4 or 5 times a month, you might as well email them much more frequently because it will not increase your unsubscribe rate. Check out the graph below.

effect of sending frequency on unsub rate
This is a screen capture from Hubspot’s results when they tested sending frequency.

While there is not a perfect or magical number of emails you should send each week/month to your list, remember that email frequency is key. You should set a schedule for your emails so you stay on the radar of your customers. Without a set schedule, you’ll never create a steady and productive e-mail marketing campaign. Just stay in front of your list and you’ll be A-ok.

7. A/B Test Your Way to a Better Campaign

All of the tips given above will probably increase your opens right off the bat. However, to radically improve your opens, you need to be A/B testing the elements mentioned above. A simple tweak in your email campaign or website could significantly increase your bottom line; that’s why testing MUST be part of your marketing strategy.

Copyhackers recently ran a study where they A/B tested subject lines for emails sent in January and February of 2013. One of their A/B tests yielded a 7% increase in the open rate just by tweaking the verbiage! This kind of difference can make or break a campaign.

Copyhackers verbiage altered
This is a screen capture from Copy Hacker’s results when they tested subject lines.

A/B testing is a fantastic diagnostic tool to better understand visitor behaviors and priorities. However, testing yields the most valuable results only when you test repeatedly. If you make a consistent habit of testing, you’ll find that the accumulated data (and lessons learned from it) can have a dramatic impact on the success of your open rates. eConsultancy’s 2012 Email Marketing Industry Census concluded that only 16% of marketers test frequently. Are you?

What is the open rate you should be aiming for?

It’s impossible to know what your open rate should be, because there are many factors when sending an email. Things such as how the send was measured, list size, when it was sent and the quality of the content are factors. You also need to account for the fact that open rates are different across industries. That’s why we grabbed Silverpop’s Email Marketing Benchmark study that recorded the following average open rates across a variety of verticals so you can see how you match up.

unique open rates by industry
This is a screen capture from Silverpop’s Email Marketing Benchmark study that recorded the following average open rates across a variety of verticals.

Did I miss anything? Give a quick shout out below in the comments section to let us know how you keep your open rates one step in front of your competitors.

Author: Alex Ilhan

Hailing all the way from England, Alex brings his email development expertise along with an endless stream of cups of tea and British cynicism. Follow him on Twitter: @omgitsonlyalex.

Author: Alex Ilhan

Hailing all the way from England, Alex brings his email development expertise along with an endless stream of cups of tea and British cynicism. Follow him on Twitter: @omgitsonlyalex.